$200k Pillar VC 2021 Pitch Competition Winners
All prizes are grants (dilution-free). Winners receive coaching and mentorship from experienced biotech founders. Pillar VC invests in seed-stage companies, supporting unstoppable founders with capital, connections, coaching, and peer support.
Photo: Alexi Choueiri — View photo
NewCo Alexi Choueiri
It takes one person to start an outbreak. We develop “dominant” mRNA therapies to destroy viral replication and prevent antiviral resistance in attempt to combat viral evolution and future pandemics. Antiviral resistance is a huge issue because viruses can evolve to escape drugs and become "super bugs". We have successfully tested this therapy on the actual SARS-CoV2 (COVID) in cells at biohazard facilities resulting in 0 infected cells. The therapy is programmable and can be adapted for many other deadly viruses like Ebola, Zika, HIV and more.
Photo: Co-founder Ashley Beckwith — View photo
We’re producing wood-derived products without cutting down a single tree. By optimizing plant cells, we grow only the components of the plants that we need with improved properties for downstream processing. In this way, we can improve yields, reduce waste, and limit energy required to produce a spectrum of wood products. Our technology enables the production of wood-based materials locally in a tunable, land-free, and more resource-efficient manner.
Photo: Nikita Khlystov, Ph.D. — View photo
Powered by biology’s incredible capacity for chemical transformation, Huminly aims to tap into plastic waste as a way to replace petroleum as a feedstock for the chemical industry. Over 360 million tons of plastic waste are produced around the world each year, and the overwhelming majority is used once and buried in landfills, representing nearly a trillion dollars in lost value annually. Using the synthetic biology platform we are developing at Stanford University, we are training microorganisms to specialize in the conversion of plastic waste to recover that lost value. In our first phase, we are taking aim at the wastefulness of the fast fashion industry with the goal of giving old clothes new life as brand-new, virgin-grade polyester material.
Photo: Founders of Drūl: Brent Ifemembi, CEO (left), Nelson Ndahiro, CTO (right) — View photo
At Drūl, we are developing a compact at-home diagnostic device that analyzes saliva samples collected through passive drooling and detects the early onset of oral disease. Although largely preventable, oral diseases affect 3.5 billion people globally and approximately 200 million U.S. adults live with untreated tooth decay and gum disease. These diseases exist asymptomatically, with unchecked progression often causing irreversible complications. Oral health is a glimpse into the state of our overall health, and poor oral hygiene is linked with increased risks for cancer, dementia, diabetes, birth defects, and cardiovascular disease. Asymptomatic monitoring of oral diseases would empower communities to seek preventative care, saving $4B annually in oral treatment costs within the US alone.
Photo: Founder, Chelsea Goddard — View photo
NewCo Chelsea Goddard
At NewCo, we imagine a world where getting rid of hair is easy and enjoyable. Our mission is to inspire delightful hair removal experiences by creating revolutionary products using small molecule research and traditional drug discovery. Today, we are working to create the first high-quality hair inhibitor serum, which helps reduce hair regrowth. Next, we will be tackling the $20B hair removal space with our original hair removal facial gel and body cream.
Photo: Tyler Chen — View photo
Skywalk is building a wearable platform that unlocks your superpowers in real and virtual worlds. Our first product is a wearable AR controller that enables augmented reality OEMs to utilize the full potential of their platforms. By digitizing muscle motions at unprecedented performance and low latency, the Skywalk platform allows for complex interactions in augmented reality and ultimately, in the real world - as a drop-in upgrade for myoelectric prostheses.
Photo: Robigo co-founders Andee Wallace, Jai Padmakumar, and Connor Sweeney. — View photo
Each year, over 6 billion pounds of pesticides are used globally to protect crop production. At Robigo, we’re creating sustainable alternatives to traditional chemical pesticides that will be more effective at controlling crop diseases, safer for human field workers, and compatible with next-gen agricultural practices. By engineering the plant microbiome to reduce disease in crops, we're working towards a future with stabilized food supply chains that meet the needs of the growing global population.
Photo: Lime Therapeutics' founding team and advisors standing in front of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center after our first fully in-person meeting ever (October 2021)! — View photo
Lime Therapeutics aims to be the world's leader in developing therapies targeting lipid metabolism. Lipid metabolism is a crucial driver for KRAS-mutated cancers, a $25 billion global market. Our proprietary nanosensor, developed by Lime's scientific founders at Memorial Sloan Kettering, is the only technology available that can perform high throughput discovery of (a) lipid metabolism targets in live animals and (b) drugs to go after those targets. We are currently focused on development of drugs for KRAS-mutated non-small cell lung cancer and colorectal cancer and plan to move these drugs into Phase 1 trials by mid-2023. Beyond cancer, our platform can expand to targeting lipid dysfunction in neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS, Parkinson’s, and dementia.
Photo: Co-founders Camilo Ruiz, Hongyu Ren, Michael Wornow — View photo
Bringing a new drug to market takes $2.6 billion and 10-15 years. By contrast, repurposing a drug for a new disease is 10x cheaper and twice as fast. Here, we present a new state-of-the-art platform to repurpose drugs. Our platform uses graph machine learning to solve the two key challenges in drug repurposing: (1) our platform is interpretable, providing testable biological hypotheses with each prediction; (2) our platform is accurate, beating the prior state of the art by up to 40% when predicting what drugs treat a disease. We will use our platform to repurpose drugs with novel, first-in-class mechanisms for indications with unmet need.
Photo: Founder, Caroline Anne McKeon — View photo
We create a scalable, kelp-based feed additive for cattle that completely eliminates their methane burps and saves farmers money.
Photo: PicoGreens team Max Schubert PhD, Robert Wilson PhD, Jesse Lou — View photo
PicoGreens is engineering microscopic algae to build the next pillar of climate resilient agriculture. Agriculture (along with the associated clearing of land) contributes more than a quarter of global greenhouse gases and consumes 70% of our freshwater, dominated by resource intensive crops like oil palms and sugarcane. What if we applied the latest advances in biology to produce these ingredients using 0.1% of the land and resources? By pioneering novel genetic engineering techniques to improve a recently discovered microalgae, we’re enabling a new farming platform that can produce oils, sugars, and other products in a sustainable, cost-efficient, and scalable way.
Photo: Marc-Joseph Antonini and Shriya Srinivasan — View photo
NeuroBionics is a startup that aims to create a new class of electronic medicine to revolutionize neuromodulation. We are developing flexible neuroprostheses that bidirectionally interface with soft organs to modulate their function, treat diseases and improve patient lives.
Photo: Naren Tallapragada — View photo
At Placeholder Bio, we believe no disease is “too big to treat.” Over 1 billion people worldwide suffer from chronic conditions like kidney disease and lung fibrosis, but the standard of care for these patients has barely advanced beyond steroids and symptomatic relief. We have a better way to develop new therapies for these patients. By combining imaging and machine learning, we can decipher how different treatments change the way that cells fit together and work together in our organs. By tapping into spatial context, we can discover new drugs that truly reverse the course of complex disease.
Photo: Peter McHale, Co-founder & CEO Gaia AI — View photo
We utilize the technology we are familiar with from the autonomous vehicles industry (LiDAR, computer vision, and perception AI algorithms) to measure forest biomass with high accuracy, greater speed, and for less cost than current solutions. These highly-accurate biomass distribution data and insights will bring trust to the carbon credit market.
Photo: Rachel Raymond — View photo
Our vision: create an ecosystem that allows consumers to acknowledge and understand their own mental wellness through the signals of their body, and to foster the compassion and confidence they need to address underlying challenges. In short, we aim to make the world a happier place. While the demand for such solutions clearly exists, we’re at a moment in time where the industry to address mental wellness has not yet been established. We aspire to create this industry and hold a leading place among and future players addressing this large market.
Photo: Tatyana Dobreva — View photo
ImYoo is a Caltech spin-out which aims to connect people with similar immune system profiles to share their health journeys and interventions. Our goal is to accelerate discovery relevant to individuals by taking one of the latest biotechnology developments--the ability to read out the RNA of thousands of cells individually--and bringing it directly to consumers. We have scaled down high-resolution single-cell transcriptomics assays to work on small, self-collected samples of blood, and we want to enable people to benefit from the full spectrum of data available on their immune system. We are a public benefit corporation whose stated public benefit is enriching society’s knowledge about human health and empowering individuals to be active participants in this scientific discovery process.
Photo: Vader Team Photo — View photo
We screen for naturally occurring bacteria that can break down environmental contaminants. We also optimize these bacteria through directed evolution.